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The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have been disrupting the global economy by firing on commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea, but have allowed ships from China and Russia to pass without being attacked. This aligns with a new period of great power politics where an authoritarian alliance, including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, is emerging in opposition to the mostly democratic alliance that has dominated global affairs since the end of the Soviet Union. These authoritarian powers are increasingly supporting each other in practical ways, as highlighted by NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg.

This emerging anti-democratic alliance has become bolder and more coordinated over the past decade, with examples including China, Iran, and North Korea providing crucial help to Russia in the Ukraine war. China and Russia are also engaging in joint military development efforts beyond Ukraine, and Iran and North Korea have resumed their collaboration on missile technology. During the war in Gaza, Chinese and Russian groups have shown support for Hamas, while the Houthis praised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as weakening American power.

The goal of the China-led alliance is to reduce American influence and allow regional powers to assert their will. This could potentially lead to China taking over Taiwan, Russia dominating parts of Eastern Europe, and Iran challenging Saudi Arabia for influence in the Middle East. Despite their differences in values, including differing forms of government and treatment of minorities, these countries share authoritarianism and a desire to reduce liberal democracy in the world.

The world may be heading towards a new cold war scenario with two broad alliances competing for power, potentially leading to actual conflicts but with efforts to prevent escalation. Another, more alarming possibility is a global war, which could start with a major event like a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or through accidental means. Experts are particularly concerned about potential conflicts in regions like the South China Sea and the Red Sea, which could escalate into larger conflicts.

While the past few decades have been relatively peaceful compared to historical standards, the future looks more uncertain and potentially frightening. The recent dispatch of a top military commander to Israel reflects concerns about the growing tensions in the world, particularly with Iran and groups like the Houthis and Hamas. As these geopolitical dynamics continue to evolve, the world is bracing for a period of increased instability and potential conflict.

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